Primo with Patio Dining

3800 W. Starr Pass Boulevard · Tucson, Arizona 85745 USA

Primo with Patio Dining

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Chef & Staff Profiles

Chef Kelly's philosophy is simple yet earth-changing. By putting in the effort to find the freshest, finest ingredients grown by sound and sustainable efforts, the dishes she creates have a dynamic flavor as lively and rich as the traditions from which they stem.

Melissa Kelly (Co-Owner and Executive Chef)

Melissa Kelly is the executive chef and proprietor of the original Primo in mid-coast Maine. She is the 2013 and 1999 James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Northeast. She was also nominated in 1998.


Melissa grew up on Long Island, and her earliest cooking lessons took place in her Italian grandmother's kitchen. In fact, she still favors Mediterranean-accented foods. She attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York and graduated first in her class. Her post-graduate education took place in some of the top kitchens in the country.


With a resume that includes the posh Greenbrier Hotel, West Virginia; Bluebeards Castle, St. Thomas U.S. Virgin Islands and An American Place in New York, Melissa has a wealth of experience. To broaden her culinary skills, she moved west to work with Reed Heron of Lulu and the legendary Alice Waters of Chez Panisse. “I didn't have a style when I got there,” Melissa says. “By the time I left, I did: simplicity, seasonality, freshness."


Melissa was named one of the upcoming chefs of the 1990s by Food & Wine magazine, Nation's Restaurant News, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Chocolatier and The New York Times. In 2003, she partnered with JW Marriott to open a second Primo at Grande Lakes, serving the Orlando area fine Italian cuisine in a casual, comfortable setting. A third located opened in 2005 at Starr Pass Resort in Tucson, Arizona.


James Beard Award-winning Chef, Melissa Kelly, grew up on Long Island, taking her earliest cooking lessons in her Italian grandmother's kitchen. Named after Kelly’s Italian grandfather, Primo is the creation of Chef Kelly and her partner, husband and pastry chef, Price Kushner. The original Primo was founded in Rockland, Maine, and in 2003 they opened Primo at the JW Marriott Grande Lakes in Orlando, Florida. It was a huge honor for all of us at the JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa to become the site of her third Primo restaurant.


Melissa Kelly was the 1999 James Beard Foundation Awards winner of the American Express Best Chef, Northeast Award. She was also nominated in 1998. First in her 1988 graduating class from The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), Melissa earned both the Richard T. Keating Award and the American Hotel Foundation Scholarship. She also received two CIA scholarships for scholastic achievement. Prior to attending the Culinary Institute, Melissa studied business administration at SUNY Farmingdale, New York and at the University of Maine. Melissa's post-graduate education took place in some of the top restaurant kitchens in the country.

Price Kushner (Co-Owner and Baker/Pastry Chef)

A native of Miami, Price Kushner spent much of his childhood in coastal Maine, where his parents maintain a home. A self-taught baker and pastry chef, he has quickly risen through the ranks of some of America's premier restaurants, including stints at the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company Inn in Chatham, New York and the renowned Acme Bread Bakery in Berkeley, California.

Chef Roderick LeDesma

Roderick LeDesma passion for cooking started at an early age when his mother taught him how to make chocolate chip cookies. His professional career started at age sixteen as he worked his way through two restaurants pairing this with degrees from the University of Arizona and the Art Institute of Tucson. Rod arrived at Primo in 2011 and within one year on the line he worked up the ranks working pantry, sauté, oven, pasta and grill finishing as a lead cook. Having mastered the line in Tucson, he was awarded the opportunity to work directly under Chef Kelly in Primo Maine’s 15th season on the grill station.

In February of 2015, he returned to his native Arizona and took over the helm of the day-to-day kitchen operation of our award winning upscale Mediterranean restaurant.


Mediterranean Women Stay Slim, Too: Eating To Be Sexy, Fit, and Fabulous!


More than a collection of favorite Primo recipes, this book focuses on the Mediterranean lifestyle. With a refreshing new outlook on food and the role it plays in our lives, readers learn Melissa’s unique approach to planting, gardening and cooking. Encouraging the reader to understand the “where and how” our food reaches the kitchen, she uncovers the importance food plays in our lives and the dramatic impact each of us can have by understanding the importance of our local growers and farms in creating quality products.


The freshest of ingredients, prepared with an Italian sensibility, and enjoyed alongside friends and family… the Primo lifestyle can now be reproduced in your own home. Purchase books online or at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa.

Primo with Patio Dining